[govinfo] FW: BARDA sign on letter

  • From: "Patrice McDermott" <pmcdermott@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: govinfo@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 10:17:06 -0400

This sign-on opportunity has a very short turn-around. It has to do with public 
disclosure provisions of HR 5533,  which would establish a new Biomedical 
Advanced Research and Development Authority within the Department of Health and 
Human Services.   
Please let Alan Pearson know ASAP (this morning) if you want to sign on. 
apearson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      _____  

  From: Nick Schwellenbach [mailto:nick@xxxxxxxx]
To: FOI-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 09:52:25 -0400
Subject: FW: BARDA sign on letter

Sorry for any cross-posts.  This is urgent and any sign-ons should be emailed 
to Alan Pearson at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation by this 
afternoon.  Send it to apearson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  
Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight  
Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org  
Alan Pearson, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation  
Pete Weitzel, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government  


From what we have heard today, the BARDA legislation may be fast-tracked for 
approval in both the House and Senate this week.  It now appears that the 
differences between the bills in each house may have already been resolved so 
that a conference will not be necessary.  Importantly, both bills contain an 
identical (b)(3) exemption that has been the subject of e-mail traffic to this 

We found out late today that the House bill may come up for a vote tomorrow. A 
small group of us (myself, Pete, Patrice, Nick) have worked up a sign-on 
letter.  We would like to get as many groups to sign on to this as possible by 
mid-day tomorrow, so that we can deliver it to several potential allies in the 
House, as well as to the sponsors of the legislation.  The letter is pasted 

If you have any questions, please contact me by e-mail.  I will be unavailable 
before about noon, but will respond to any questions or concerns immediately 
upon arrival in the office.

Best regards,

Alan Pearson
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Text of letter:

We write to urge modification of the public disclosure provisions of HR 5533, 
which would establish a new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development 
Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services. Improved 
coordination and oversight of research and development of new medicines and 
vaccines against biological weapons and other disease agents is critical to our 
national security but we believe this measure will wrap that effort in 
unnecessary and counter-productive secrecy.

Language in the âBiodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 
2006â mandates that the Secretary of Health and Human Services withhold 
technical and scientific information that would âreveal vulnerabilities of 
existing medical or public health defensesâ against biological threats. It 
establishes a five-year blackout on reviewing withholding decisions.

While well-intentioned, this language is vague and all but certain to result in 
inappropriate withholding of information that needs to be shared for reasons 
related to both public accountability and national security.  All of the 
research and development activities that BARDA would pursue are directed at 
reducing our nationâs vulnerabilities. What then are the limits on 
information that must be withheld? The legislation provides no guidance on this 
question, and allows no discretion. In the fast-moving area of biomedical 
research, a five-year blackout is unwise and likely to be counter-productive in 
many instances.

The legislation might also prevent the results of important fundamental 
research from being shared with other scientists who need to know. For 
instance, basic research on new broad-spectrum anti-microbials is essential in 
the face of naturally-occurring but rapidly increasing antibiotic resistant 
bacterial infections. Yet, such research could reveal vulnerabilities and thus 
could fall within the broad language of the law. Withholding such information 
runs counter to long-standing U.S. policy that fundamental research be open, 
that the benefits of such openness outweigh the risks.

Indeed, the U.S. leads the world in biomedical research. Our experience has 
shown that robust and effective vaccine and drug development can only take 
place in a climate of timely and free exchange of materials and information. In 
contrast, secrecy in bioweapons related research will not only harm our 
biodefense vaccine and drug development efforts, but will set a poor example 
that other nations may follow to our chagrin.

Moreover, given the widespread criticism that the Department and Project 
BioShield have already received for lack of results and accountability, we 
believe that Congress should strive to make the BARDA as transparent as 
possible while ensuring necessary national security.

Toward that end, we urge that the language of HR 5533 be modified to provide 
more specific guidance on the information covered, to give the secretary 
discretion to release information that he believes could be shared publicly, 
and to shorten the review period to two years.
We also believe the provision in this bill excluding all meetings from the 
Federal Advisory Committee Act is inappropriate.


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